‘Je me souviens’, Su J. Sokol

Illustrations © 2012 Soussherpa



 [ Gabriel et Rapha, © 2012 Soussherpa ] There are nine police cars. I count them again just to be sure and because counting usually calms me.

Arielle watches to see if I’m freaking out. I smile but she’s not reassured. She reaches up to place her hand on my shoulder, asks if I want to leave. I tell her I’m OK. She’s still concerned so I try a sexy smile this time. If she would kiss me now, I’d have somewhere pleasant to channel my beating heart. She leans towards me and I see that she’s used her superpowers to read my mind again, but then another police car arrives, drawing her attention away.

Now ten police cars face two hundred and thirty-six demonstrators. We are peaceful, banging pots and chanting slogans. Our numbers include children, old people, commuters on bikes, dogs wearing red bandanas. A cop is speaking through a bullhorn but no one can hear him because of the clanging and chanting. Will they arrest us now? My heart beats like the wings of a falcon, trying to escape the prison of my chest.

I tell myself that this is Québec. They will not put a black bag over my head. They will not throw me in the trunk of one of their cars. They will not burn me with cigarettes after beating me. No, this doesn’t happen here... I am pretty sure. They have granted me permanent residence and have even hired me to teach their children math. So I will stay here and demonstrate for my students.

The police open the trunks of their vans. I’m concentrating on my breathing, on not blanking out, when a little ball of energy in a red cape flies into my legs.

La policía, they are here to catch the bad guys, Papa?” he asks me, his speech the usual jumble of French, Spanish and English.

Before I can speak, Arielle answers. “No, mon petit chéri, this is not why they’re here today.”

I will catch them, then! But first Papa must fly me home so I can eat my supper.”

C’est correct? Can we go home now?” Arielle asks me.

I shrug, hiding my relief, and lift Raphaël high over my head. I run full out towards our home, fast enough so that his cape flies out behind him and fast enough that my own need to run is satisfied. Our four-year-old superhero has come to the rescue.

The next morning, despite a sleep fragmented by nightmares, I’m energized, thinking about being a part of something important again. This was not my first demonstration in my new home, but the first of this kind—spontaneous, focused, a little confrontational. And joyous. Even more so than the mass manifestation when our numbers first surpassed 250,000.

That day, I stood at the overpass by rue Berri, Raphaël on my shoulders, watching the street below swell with a current of demonstrators wide as the Rio Grande. I’m good at counting, my eyes instinctively grouping people into hundreds, thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands. Surely they must listen now, I thought. Surely they will see the beauty, the rightness of our cause!

Our euphoria was short-lived as we watched the news and listened to the lies about our goals, our numbers. Last night, with our pots, with our “casseroles”, we banged out our anger and turned it into music. We felt our connection to the other Montréal quartiers out in the street from Parc Ex to Pointe-Saint-Charles, Snowdon to St. Michel to Villeray to Verdun. I am proud, too, that les casseroles, “los caserolazos”, are borrowed from the political traditions of my own people.

This morning, standing at the front of my high school math class, I feel an even stronger connection to my students. And I feel in control. Numbers—they do not lie to you; they do not let you down. I explain the first problem, my eyes scanning the classroom, counting students. Someone is missing. When I’m presenting the second problem, Xavier stumbles in, limping slightly and with his left eye blackened.

I don’t ask him for his late pass nor for his homework. I even let him read whatever it is he’s awkwardly hidden behind his math textbook. A large oval bruise on his upper arm is already aging, turning from black to green. As I answer a student’s question, my mind goes through a familiar set of choices: the police, youth protection, the directrice of the school... When the authorities were called in last time, it did not end well: denials by Xavier and threats of legal action by his politically connected family, followed by months of unexplained absences and hidden punishments.

I ask Xavier to remain after class is over. He approaches my desk, giving me a sullen look from under his long hair. There seems little point in asking him what happened, so instead, I ask him what he’s reading. He hesitates, then shrugs and places it in my hand.

“What is it?” I ask.

C’est une bande-dessinée. ‘Comic book’ in English.”

“I am not anglophone,” I say.

“Yeah, but you’re not from here, are you?”

He says this like I might be from Mars or some other planet.

“Why do the people in the bande-dessinée have the heads of animals?” I ask. “Are they superheroes, these animal-headed people?”

“I’m not ten years old. I don’t believe in superheroes.”

“I would like to help you, Xavi.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help. And I can’t stay. There’s a student union meeting. To vote on the strike.”

Enthusiasm has replaced his precocious cynicism.

D’accord. I will see you in class tomorrow.”

He taps my raised fist with his own, smiling indulgently, like to a younger or more naive brother. I watch him try to hide his limp and immediately feel depressed.

The end of the day finds me in the teachers’ lounge. Luc joins me, compositions from his students clutched in his big hands. I gaze up at my best friend and he quickly drops down beside me.

Qu’est-ce que tu as?” he asks, reading me as always.

“Xavier came into class today all beaten up. I don’t know what I should do.”

“If you suspect something...”

“It is beyond suspecting. I know what’s happening and it’s not just beatings.”

“Are you sure of this?” he asks.

I simply look at him. He knows about my past. Not just the torture but the rapes as well. Luc was able to get this information out of me in a coherent way when even the tribunal could not.

“The only thing I’m not sure of is who is doing it,” I finally say.

“Don’t worry, Gabriel, we’ll figure this out, I promise you. I have friends at youth protection. I even know a cousin of Xavier’s mother. We’ll find a way to help him.”

I feel a little reassured. I move closer, so that my leg is touching his and I can lean against him. He lets me, even puts his arm around my shoulder. Some of the darkness leaks out of me.

If Arielle were here, she would be happy, seeing how I can still take comfort from other men. She was my lawyer at the refugee hearing and knows my past, accepts me as I am. She tried to prepare me for their questions, but I failed her. On such and such a date, they asked me, had I been tortured for my political crimes or for the crime of being queer? It seemed important to be precise about this, but I was confused. Maybe I was tortured for the former and raped for the latter. The fear of disappointing the officials, of making them angry, made my words flee. Perhaps that’s why, in the middle of the hearing, I blanked out. When I came back, I was standing on a chair without any clothes on, turning around in circles as though to model my scars.

“I should go home,” I say to Luc. “To cook supper. Arielle is counting on me.”

“How is Arielle?”

“She is good. We had very hot sex last night. Do you want to hear about it?”

I feel happy thinking about this while leaning against Luc’s shoulder. It was when Arielle and I made love for the first time, on the floor of her office, that I realized she had superpowers. I hadn’t been sure before, even though she’d rescued me from the hearing, helping me to dress myself before bringing me to the hospital. Arielle might even have won my case, but instead, she found a way to spare me the pain of the hearing. She offered to marry me. Her colleagues teased that she didn’t want to risk a blemish on her perfect record, but Arielle explained it all in logical, lawyerly terms. She’d just gone through another in a series of unreliable roommates and untrustworthy boyfriends. She wanted someone who shared her political values to also share, on a longterm basis, the household expenses and cooking. And one other thing. She wanted a child.

Luc tells me maybe another time, after a few beers.

“Will we go somewhere that has ‘Maudite’ beer?” I ask him. “I like the picture on the label, of the flying canoe, la chasse galerie.”

“You’re such a child sometimes. And speaking of children, I have that book for Raphaël. Of old Québecois tales, including a few chasse galerie stories.” He hands me a large volume, the edges soft with use.

“It’s beautiful,” I say, running my fingers along the expensive binding.

“My parents gave me this collection. Keep it as long as you need it.”

Merci beaucoup, mon cher ami,” I say, kissing him on both cheeks and then once on the lips for good measure. He accepts my shows of affection with his usual aplomb.

That night, I tell Raphaël my own version of a chasse galerie story.

“Once upon a time, some men were chopping down trees deep in the winter forest. They were sad because they missed their children and partners.”

“Where were the children and partners, Papa?”

“In another forest... planting trees to replace those that had been cut down. So one day, the men boarded a magic canoe to visit their loved ones.”

“Were they superheroes?”

Claro que si. They were very good friends who could... they could mix their powers together into one big superpower. That’s how they made the canoe fly. But there was a super villain too, and he... he sprinkled forgetting dust into their eyes so that they could not remember who they were, and their canoe started falling down to the earth.”

“Oh no! What happened?”

“Flying boy came to the rescue. He brought the boat down safely and used a magical washcloth to wipe the forgetting dust out of the men’s eyes.”

“Was Flying boy wearing his red cape?”

“Yes. And now it’s time for superheroes to go to sleep.”

“Papa? Why did the super villain make the men forget things? Why is he bad?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a bad thing happened to him, something he needed to forget. Good night, Flying boy.”

“Good night, Papa.”

I tuck him into bed, trying to ignore a growing darkness. I make myself think of the night Rapha was born. The moment I held him, I knew he’d been gifted with strong powers and that it was my job to protect him until he was old enough to use them safely. This responsibility is what has kept me from ending my own worthless life.

Arielle is watching the nightly update on the student strike that reignited this fall. There’s a late-breaking development about a student who’s in critical condition after a plastic bullet struck her in the eye. I pull Arielle onto my lap and hide my face in her curls while counting to myself. Maybe Arielle will use her gifts tonight to make me forget things that strike and burn and tear into tender flesh. Maybe, at least, she can help me get a few hours of sleep.

On Facebook, I learn that this week has been declared “une semaine de résistance” for secondary school students. Our school votes to go on strike, but staff must report to work as usual. I stay in the teachers’ lounge, not wanting to be alone, but I’m restless, so I go down the hall and stand at the entrance. At nine o’clock, the police arrive in full riot gear and declare the students’ picket illegal. They open their trunks and pull out shiny yellow vests and canisters of malevolent substances. I walk back into the teachers’ lounge.

“We should be out there,” I say to the others.

A debate ensues but many teachers are missing, waiting in their classrooms.

“I’ll get them,” Luc volunteers. He turns to me. “Stay here until I get back.”

I wait for a while, then go to the front entrance again and see the beginnings of trouble between a group of students and the riot cops. I wonder where Luc is and turn to see him right behind me.

Venez dehors! Nos étudiants se font embêter!” he shouts to the others.

I run outside and Luc catches up to me, his hand closing around my upper arm. I pull him with me as I throw myself between the students and the riot police. We’re shoved but keep to our feet and Luc is saying “Calmez-vous, calmez-vous,” making eye contact with each of the cops in front of us, patiently explaining that we are teachers, a French teacher and a Mathematics teacher, and that we must all remain calm to set a good example.

After a few tense moments, more teachers come outside. We join hands, forming a barrier between the students and the police. The students chant slogans like “Education is a right” and “À qui nos écoles? À nous nos écoles”. Luc pulls L’Étranger from his back pocket and begins reciting from it. I spot Xavier. He’s focused and intense, a courageous smile on his face. By the end of the morning, almost all of my colleagues have joined us and the police have retreated to their cars. I grip Luc’s hand tighter and think about kissing every single teacher standing with us. With these heroes beside me, I feel invincible.

The next night I have a beer with Luc at a café on rue St. Denis. I finish five ‘Maudites’ and am feeling a nice buzz from that, with its higher alcohol content. I told Arielle I’d eat something with Luc. I can’t lie to her so I steal a handful of his fries. He offers me his burger but I shake my head, too keyed up to eat much.

“Shouldn’t we be going?” I ask. “The manif is scheduled to begin at 21 hours.”

“It’s not like the theatre, my friend. We don’t have to be there when the curtain rises. You sure this is alright with Arielle? There’s more risk of being arrested at night.”

“I have promised to be careful.”

At Parc Émilie-Gamelin, I’m in my element. It’s hot for late September. A thick darkness envelops me. There’s an aura of unpredictability that I appreciate because deep down, I’m an optimist who believes that whatever happens next has got to be better than the shit we have now. My lips move to the chants. An anarchist marching band playing circus music draws me in deeper, to where the park is filled with magic.

Luc introduces me to people he knows. After a while, I wander off as he gets into conversation with one of his ex-girlfriends. There’s a group of men wearing dark clothing on the fringes of the manif. They’re rowdy and loud and exude a dangerous energy. I’m drawn to them. I also want to run from them. I find myself a couple of metres closer to the group, though I don’t remember deciding to approach them. In fact, I remember deciding the opposite. My feet are taking more steps in their direction and I can’t make myself stop. The men are carrying something in their hands. Their eyes flash yellow in the darkness. I’m terrified and mesmerized as I come closer still. One raises his arm with a look of gleeful malice. Someone grabs my shirt from behind.

Câlisse de tabarnak,” Luc shouts. “Can’t I turn my back on you for a minute?” My collar is bunched up in his fist as he guides me, not gently, out of the park.

“Who are those guys?” I ask. “They looked like skinheads with hair.”

Agents provocateurs or just assholes. What difference does it make? You know to stay away from them.”

“They have evil powers. I couldn’t pull away.”

“You’ve had too many beers. It’s time to go home.”

I leave with him, but I know I’ll be back tomorrow night and all the nights after. I’ve found another activity where it feels right that I’m still alive. I count through the list in my head: Taking care of Raphaël, teaching my students, making love, being drunk or stoned, going to manifs with a certain type of energy. I’ll just have to be careful, to resist the evil power. It’ll be worth it if we succeed. It may even give me back some of the life force stolen from me when I was a teenager.

Arielle and I are watching the news. She’s become a news junkie in the same way that I’ve become a junkie for demonstrations.

“Our government makes me ashamed to be Québécoise,” Arielle says.

“That is not Québec. The real Québec is in the streets, marching and chanting and demonstrating. Come out with me more. You would feel better,” I tell her.

She touches my cheek. “You reassuring me. It should be the other way around.”

Of course the police violence and new repressive laws frighten me. But conditions in Québec, politically and socially, are still better than in the country where I was born. It’s for this very reason that whenever things become worse here, I feel nauseous, like the world is spinning in the wrong direction.

“Let’s go together to the flashmob nude manif tomorrow. It will be fun. I can put fleur-de-lys pasties on your nipples.”

She smiles and I know I’ve convinced her.

The next day, Arielle calls me at school to say that they’re concerned about Raphaël at the garderie. He’s telling everyone that he’s a superhero and trying to fly off tables and playground equipment. They’ve asked for a meeting.

“I can go, Arielle.”

“They’ve asked that I come, specifically.”

“That is sexism.”

“No, it’s more that...”

“What?”

“It’s because of what you told Raphaël, last time this happened. That he needed to wait until he was older to use his superpowers. And to only use them when they’re needed... and other things they’ve heard you say.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“No, not angry but.... We’ll talk more later. Are you still going to the manif?”

“Yes.”

“There’s usually less police violence at the nude ones. You’ll be careful?”

“Of course. I love you.”

Without Arielle and Raphaël, the apartment feels a little sinister. It’s better in Raphaël ‘s room where I can sense him in his toys and clothes and artwork. I hold on to one of his superhero figures and draw strength from that.

In our bedroom, I lay down and wrap my arms around Arielle’s pillow and breathe in her familiar odour. It’s not enough. On the shelf in the back of my closet, I find the box that I haven’t opened since my uncle smuggled me out of my country. I take out the red cape, red feathered mask and calf-high red boots. The cape against my nose, I smell the streets of my childhood and adolescence.

My mother sewed this costume, but she did not bring me up to believe in superheroes. My parents were university professors. Both were politically active, proud of my work for the student newspaper and tolerant of my sexual explorations. Their openness and support encouraged me to finally tell what my uncle did to me.

No, my parents did not believe in superheroes. Nor did they believe in super villains. Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it can’t kill you. They never should have gone to the police about what my uncle did. They thought they could protect and avenge me but he was too powerful. Their so-called accident deprived me of protection. Thoughts of vengeance are like cold ashes in my mouth.

I hold the costume in my hands, remembering when I wore it so proudly. It was after “los casserolazos”, after the occupation of the campus library, and after the kiss-in, but the taste of my classmates’ lips was still fresh in my memory. The superhero demonstration was the last one before I was taken. Like me, only parts of the costume survived, but maybe some traces of the powers that were stolen from me remain in the material. I shove it into a bag and head for my bike.

I’m marching down rue Ste-Catherine wearing my cape, my boots, my mask and nothing else. The breeze ruffles my pubic hair. My boots protect my feet and my mask protects my identity. It’s almost like having the power of invisibility.

Everyone is friendly, many people talk to me. A few ask for my contact info, take my picture. I know I’m good looking but I take no pride in this. I did nothing to earn my looks, yet, it’s something I’ve had to pay for, repeatedly. “Excuse me,” I say to the person who’s been chatting with me for the last kilometre. “I have to stop here.” On the side street under a circus canopy stands a man wearing a red kerchief who has the dark eyes and quirked smile of my country of birth. He’s holding a six-inch tall toy polar bear banging a miniature pot with a tiny, perfectly formed wooden spoon. The bear is wearing the flag of Québec as a cape.

“How much, monsieur?” I ask.

“Just take it, hermano.”

“I couldn’t.”

“Yes. It is for your child. Take it.”

I hold the bear, sensing in its erect posture and soft gaze a desire to protect. I look up to thank the man, wondering how he knows about Rapha, but he’s gone.

At home, I give Rapha his gift. I let him turn it on so that he can hear the pot banging, a sweet, high pitched clang clang... clangclangclang. I tell him to keep it safe because of its magic, then kiss him goodnight.

That evening, on Facebook, I see the first photo of myself at the nude manif. In the next couple of days, more photos follow, including one where my back is to the camera as I look over my shoulder. I’m holding up the toy polar bear with its flag-of-Québec cape. My other fist is raised as well. This is the photo that goes viral.

Wednesday, I arrive early at school and, uncharacteristically, so does Luc. He comes into my classroom with a copy of a popular glossy magazine in his hand. He slaps it onto my desk.

“Please tell me this isn’t you.”

I look at the cover photo—a close-up shot of me at the manif, fist in air, my more private parts artfully photo-shopped. It’s difficult to answer him, the power of his verbal request at odds with the truth.

“He’s wearing a mask,” I finally answer. “You can’t tell, for sure, who he is.”

Je n’en reviens pas. You can’t be that stupid.”

I hang my head thinking, ‘Yes I can.’ He hears my thoughts.

Écoute, you’re going to be called into the directrice’s office this afternoon. Don’t say anything. Let me handle it. D’accord?

At the meeting, Arielle is there too. Luc must have called her. They sit on either side of me, protecting me as they answer concerns about propriety, judgment, reputation, regulations. My head is pounding from the force of the words in the room. I try to count how many hours of sleep I’ve had this week. If I strung those hours together, would it be equivalent to one full night’s rest?

In the end, I’m told that I’ve gotten off lightly. I’m told this by the directrice, by Luc and again by Arielle on the way home. I get to keep my job, without even a warning in my record. But I cannot come to work for ten days. The first day is without pay and those following are sick days for me to rest and “find my equilibrium”. I am not to give interviews.

Still, the news is full of information about me—that I am a teacher with a four-year old son, that I am a refugee which, strictly speaking, is not even true. But this is the excuse used for why my school is not identified, nor my name used. The real reason is that Arielle and Luc have created a shield of partial invisibility.

Nevertheless, there are photos of me—far away, obscured, fully clothed. And quotes in support of the movement and against police violence, not attributed directly to me but said to be “summaries of my position” as communicated to “friends”. I learn that the fact that this message comes from a good-looking, naked teacher who is also a political refugee and father has earned me, and the movement, “a great deal of new popular support.” Arielle tells me that this has earned me a lot of enemies too—principally, the government and the police—and insists that I lay low for a while.

I try to do as Arielle says. For the first forty-eight hours, I actually do not leave my bed. Arielle suggests I start seeing my therapist more frequently. Luc comes by with offers of bike rides, soccer games, a film. The problem is that I am not teaching, not with my students. When Raphaël is at the garderie, I feel useless. Finally, I tell Arielle that I must get out, if only to bike around the city.

The next day, I participate in three separate demonstrations and a teach-in organized by professors. Afterwards, I go to a public assemblée générale. The meeting is held in Parc Lafontaine where, just metres from us, a woman in black fishnet tights and stilettos is being taught to wield a whip by a huge bald man in leather. Every few minutes, I’m distracted by the sound of the whip cracking accompanied by a sharp burning pain on my back, but when I look around the assembly, no one else seems bothered. It occurs to me that I may be the only one who can perceive these two super villains. I leave and, biking very fast, attend seven different “casserolazos” before heading to the night manif. When I return home, Arielle asks me what I’ve been up to. I tell her everything, which of course I must do. She seems deeply disturbed and insists that we both stay home the next day.

It’s a good day. We make love, nap, drink red wine. I feed a little off her life force—I cannot help myself—but I don’t think it hurts her because she’s so strong. In the evening, I put Raphaël to bed while she listens to the news. She’s turned the volume low but I can tell there’s been a report of some super villainy. I know this by the staccato rhythm of the words, the erratic, fractured images. As I enter the living room, Arielle turns off the television. I walk towards it as though to a cooling corpse.

“What happened?”

She hesitates. “Some arrests, police violence. There were... injuries, that’s all.”

I know that I’m to blame. I either caused it or... or maybe if I had been there, I could have lured the evil towards me.

“I’m going to the demonstration tomorrow,” I tell Arielle.

“Gabriel...”

I cut her off, steel myself against her power.

“Please,” I say, putting my fingers on her lips. “Please,” I whisper again.

She sighs. “Then I’m going too.”

On the way to the demonstration the next morning, we drop Rapha off at his friend’s apartment on avenue Mont Royal. He’s disappointed that he can’t come, but we tell him to watch for us, that the march will pass right by his street.

After last night’s events, the mood at the grand manif is somber. The numbers of police and the way they are armed seem more a provocation than a way of keeping the peace. Nevertheless, the demonstrators remain positive. I march between Arielle and Luc in a bubble of safety. Something in the mood still doesn’t feel right, though. I’m glad that Rapha is safe at his friend’s home.

It’s after crossing St. Laurent that I realize the super villains are trying to take control of the demonstration. I can see them, just off to my right, but whenever I turn my head, they’re gone. Arielle asks me what’s wrong, so I mention my nervousness for the students. Luc thinks I mean our students and says that he saw Xavier and other kids from our school marching with a youth contingent behind us. He offers to try to find them for me and to talk to Xavier if possible.

Now there is only Arielle beside me. This is the moment when I must leave. I kiss her hard on the lips and make a run for it. I find them easily, instinctively, the evil calling out to me. I can taste the violence in the air as it draws me closer. Suddenly, I see Xavier in front of me and feel a sense of mounting panic.

Everything happens at once. An arm is raised. People are running. A canister bursts in the air. Riot police appear from nowhere, weapons already in hand. Arielle calls me from a distance, Luc’s head and shoulders appear above the crowd far behind me. The mass of humanity is rumbling and reforming. Xavier’s eyes meet my own.

“Run!” I yell to him and his friends, and they do.

The next instant, the first matraque cuts across my hip, taking my legs out from under me. My head hits the pavement. Everything goes dark. I remember.

We were all standing under the night sky, a mass of students dancing in our superhero costumes. The evening was hot and full of motion, my arms tight around the shoulders of my two best friends. We sang and danced while we waited for the government to finally see that we were their children and that the things we fought for were good and right and pure.

I was almost too happy, too excited. Almost, I was a little bored. My two friends agreed to leave with me and we found our way to my old home. Someone had placed a new lock on the door I used to enter. I was seeking my parents’ ghosts, hoping they were watching over us, yet I did not heed this obvious warning from the dead. I smashed the window, my parents’ murder a shard in my heart.

We were inside, kissing. I went from one set of lips to the other, my hand under the girl’s superhero skirt, the other rubbing the boy through his superhero tights. It was all very innocent—cuddles and caresses, seeking warmth in the ruins of my childhood home. I thought about returning to the demonstration, guilty about convincing my friends to follow me to this dark and sad place. This was the power that I had—to make people love me, to make them see my love for them, to make them follow me, heedlessly.

And still, It might have been alright, if I hadn’t taken off my costume.

My eyes snap open. The cop’s face is snarling above me. “It’s you, the magazine star. Let them take your picture now,” he says, punctuating his words with a blow across the chest. I taste blood in the back of my throat.

They arrived with their guns, pulling me from my friends. The beating began at once, the force of the blows seeming to flow from an exterior power. I fought back at first, scanning the street outside for help. When my uncle stepped forward from the darkness with a look of anticipation about to be satisfied, I stopped fighting.

“Run!” I yelled to my friends. And they did.

I don’t want to fight back this time. But my body doesn’t listen to me. It’s trying to stand. The next blow takes me and I’m on the ground again, the pain exploding behind my eyes and trying to spread itself more evenly throughout my body. I look up, hoping they’ll finish me off quickly. It’s then that I see Rapha leaning over his friend’s balcony, the little bear clanging away in alarm, my son’s mouth a big “O”.

Pain. The stench of death and decay. In the prison, my only comfort was that my friends were not also taken. I balanced this against my agony. Snatches of sleep are brief, dreams of warm lips and smooth limbs. I began to imagine that I could see my friends flying over the prison in their costumes, planning to save me. I waited for rescue as minutes/hours/days became lifetimes endured. My uncle always came after the pain, speaking to me of loyalty to government and family and God, his hands on my body, gentle as a poisonous eel. Bled and pumped dry, I could no longer hear my own cries. They’d stolen my life force and I was fading. I finally realized that my friends’ superhero powers must have been stolen as well. That this is why they never came for me.

Raphaël has climbed over the balcony railing. With horror, I realize that he’s seen me. I sense Arielle’s presence coming nearer, Luc’s as well. My death is coming too, but not soon enough. I will still be alive to see my child jump from the balcony.

“Rapha!” I cry as he becomes airborne, his cape flying out behind him. The police baton is raised again. I close my eyes and wait for it.

I’m flying through the air, holding on to Raphaël. We’re moving very fast above the streets of Montréal. Am I dead yet? I don’t want Rapha to be in a place of the dead. “No,” I moan and realize that, after all these years, I can hear my cries of pain again.

“Shh,” a familiar voice says. “Ça va aller. I’ve got you.”

Luc’s face is above mine, his arms carrying me swiftly through the streets, the crowd opening before him. If I could, I’d ask him to care for Raphaël in my place. My hand rests against Luc’s chest, his shirt wet and sticky with my blood. I try to touch his lips with my fingers so he can read my mind, but my fingers reach only his chin, slipping down again on its rough wetness. My hand drops to my own mouth. I taste salt, feel Luc’s chest heave with his sobs, with the strain of carrying me and running. I press my hand against his heart and he runs faster.

In the ambulance, Arielle holds my hand. Her voice cradles me. “Lâche pas, Gabriel. Lâche pas.” Hope hurts more than giving up, though, and I don’t think I can take any more pain. Then she puts my hand on her cheek and I feel her tears. I absorb the salt through the tips of my fingers and hold on a little longer.

Awareness slips in between longer periods of confusion. I see the friends from my student days beckoning me to dance with them. I see them pass the missing pieces of my costume to Arielle and Luc who hold fast with their powers of reason and strength, of goodness and loyalty. Above them all is my precious Rapha, flying and free. I remember now how he jumped from the balcony, landing squarely on the policeman’s back, how he passed his red felt square across the cop’s eyes, and how the man backed away from me in shock, as though only now seeing what he had done.

I wake and wake again. Luc or Arielle are always beside me holding tightly to my hand. When I ask for Rapha, I am told not to worry, that he is fine. I sleep and heal.

On a day when my head is clear, I open my eyes to Arielle sitting beside my hospital bed with Rapha on her lap. He clutches a newspaper, on the front page, a photo of his exploit, his red cape flying out behind him. The headlines reads: Boy superhero leaps to the rescue. Negotiations resume, student leaders hopeful.

“What happened?” I ask.

“It’s a long story,” Arielle says. “What did you think you were doing?”

“My students were in danger. I saw Xavier, told him to run.”

 [ Flying, © 2012 Soussherpa ] “Well he ran and found Luc, which probably saved your life.”

“Papa,” Raphaël whispers. “Maman made me promise not to fly anymore until I am grown up. I said d’accord but only if you come back to life.”

“Well I have, so you must do as you have promised.”

“I also promised not to tell any more newspaper people about how I can fly. And about the magic forgetting dust.”

“Forgetting dust?” I ask.

“Yes. Like you told me. I used the red square to wipe it from the policeman’s eyes. And I said the magic words.”

“What words, Rapha?”

Je me souviens.


Dedicated to student and teacher superheroes everywhere.

© 2012, Su J. Sokol

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